Reacting to MoD budget cuts, the Finmeccanica-owned helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland has been forced to reduce its UK workforce.
Although many of the job losses are to be in management and corporate functions, fears over the future of many defence contractors are growing, as the UK’s defence budget shrinks in the face of hard economic times.
Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy praised the workers at AgustaWestland’s Yeovil operation and said it was lucky to have a “brilliant” workforce and the company boasted “World-class” helicopter production.
Mr Murphy told BBC News: “The worrying thing for BAE and possibly now for Westland is that the British Government isn’t willing to support enough British industry. We can’t always buy British, but we should be supporting British companies who are world-leaders.”
Managing director of AgustaWestland Ray Edwards said: “These steps together – the increased civil aircraft work-flow, the launch of the AW169 and the streamlining of the workforce – will place our UK operation on a strong footing and enable us to keep the skills needed for the UK to retain a viable helicopter capability.
Mr Edwards reiterated that the Government had shown considerable support for the industry, and said that extending the company’s capabilities in civil production and competing for export programmes were key to the continued success of AgustaWestland.
After announcing £32 million of Government investment in AgustaWestland Yeovil’s operation, Business Secretary Vince Cable said that he hoped that the investment and the introduction of the civil AW169 aircraft would allow the company to expand in the future.
Mr Cable said: “The JobCentre Plus Rapid Response Service is on hand to provide a range of support measures and BIS officials are in contact with the company to ensure that everything possible is done to help those affected.”
“The Skills and Jobs Retention Group, chaired by Allan Cook, is also ready to help the small number of skilled engineers affected by today’s announcement,” he added.